Thursday, 20 December 2007

Sunday training photos

Thanks to our loyal I-don't-train-but-I-like-supporting-you-by-watching amateur photographer friend Tamas (I hope the description is accurate enough :)), we have a lot of photos taken last Sunday. They were pre-filtered by Chris and further filtered by me, now we have only 133 left to show :D. There are also others in the pictures, so the collection is a result of real team work :).

Like it or not, I'm the most frequently photographed person in this picture set thanks to the facts that 1. Karesz "Charlie san" sensei was away and made me in charge of the class, 2. we did some breathing and streching exercises at the beginning of the class, 3. I didn't really filter out many pictures about me :).

Enjoy the slideshow and in case I don't post anything here before Christmas I wish you a Merry Christmas and a nice Christmas meal, too :)!

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Monday, 17 December 2007

Shomen vs. Chopping wood

There's a very good blog about aikido that discusses the basic attacks, movements and principles of aikido but, unfortunately, it's not in English. However, if you want to read technical descriptions as detailed as a work of a mechanical engineer it is worth finding a Hungarian friend and ask him/her to translate a couple of posts for you although I'll try to use the knowledge I acquire from there in my posts.

The point of this new post is that on that blog there was a description of shomen(uchi) and we commenters started to compare shomenuchi with chopping wood. Indeed, they are quite similar and one can be used to get better at the other. Both are supposed to be straight vertical cuts with an instrument that is about a meter long (katana vs. axe) and both cuts are intended to separate the left and right sides of something that was a whole just before the cuts.

There are some differences, however, and I'd like to discuss them as well as pointing out whenever connection between the two cuts can still be made .

To start with, the katana should be balanced in weight whereas the axe is heavier at its cutting end. The axe is stopped by the stand the block is on if your cut is too strong and since the point of stopping does not really matter as long as the block is cut into halves it is much more useful to have some weight at the end of the axe and make the rest of it from wood so you can cut hundreds. You should also be able to cut hundreds with a katana but all your cuts must be as perfect as possible otherwise you may end up in two parts on the battlefield. It is important to finish the shomen cut at around waist level for which there are several reasons. Firstly, if you have already cut someone from head to waist it is unlikely he will fight back. Secondly, as the blade goes deeper down in your test object :) its momentum will dramatically decrease and eventually it can get stuck in the object's bone structure and you, unable to get it out quickly enough, will end up being cut into two parts on the battlefield. So try to cut until waist level because then you can pull the sword out the easiest way as you just move (your hip) away from the target horizontally (which way you can use our strength most effectively). Then you will be able to take on the next attacking dummy quickly. Thirdly, if the dummy is quick enough and moves away from your straight shomen and your cut goes all the way until the ground your katana will get dirty :). On top of this, you will become unstable and might just stumble or fall ahead which is when the back of your neck becomes open and you end up in two parts, this way head separated from body, on the battlefield.

Another difference can be that you always raise your sword, and hand if it is shomenuchi, in front of you because this is the way when your face, and basically all your front armor, doesn't become open to a straight attack, e.g. tsuki (forward thrust), from your enemy. In contrast to this, you can raise your axe at your side, the wood won't attack you. This way you might manage the weight of the head of the axe more efficiently, too.

Chopping wood can show you how to keep your instrument straight. If the head of your axe is a bit sideways you will surely see and feel that it's not the correct way of holding it. A slight difference in angle from vertical can result in very low efficiency and we surely don't want that.

Chopping wood also teaches us to keep proper distance. As it's only the tip part, say the last 15cm, of the katana that is very sharp and extremely tough you have to reach your target with that part. If you are too far you will miss the target, if you are too close your cut won't be efficient enough and unnecessary short distances in combat are very dangerous, anyway. In parallel, if you have an axe and you are too far from the block your legs (/front leg) will be in danger, if you are too close you will get a good 'shaky' indication for not doing it properly not even mentioning that you can eventually lose the head of the axe or break the handle.

Chopping wood can improve your ballance, strength and if you do it long enough your shoulders should become more relaxed because if they are stiff you will get tired very soon.

One other advantage of chopping wood is that it also produces something useful (firewood) which shomen cuts with a katana don't (apart from improving skills).

Please note that I'm not saying you shouldn't practice shomen or shomenuchi often, it is still important, just that there is this chopping exercise that shows you different aspects of a straight cut, and to quote from Calvin's dad "it builds character" :).

An almost-real-world example for the usefulness of wood chopping is that of Heihachi Hayashida from Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (Shichinin no Samurai). He is the one who is from the "Wood-Chop School of Swordsmanship," cutting up kindling in exchange for his meals. If he did it then it should surely be useful ;).

And finally, videos:

A katana cut (shomen. I couldn't find a proper shomen with a sword):

How not to chop...

Mixing the two ideas... (don't try this at home because it destroys your sword; never mix up two ways of cutting; don't do anything stupid :))

Please let me know if anything is missing, incorrect or, by any chance, very good :).

Thursday, 13 December 2007

The meaning of the three aikido kanji

In the previous post we saw how the whole word 'aikido' can be translated to English. Let's see now what the individual parts of the word mean. Fortunately, every sourse I came across mentioned that the aikido includes three parts, AI, KI and DO. The number of Japanese kanji for the word is also three. Let's see how the individual kanji are explained in the online sources I've seen. Obviously, there are several descriptions that are literally the same for many webpages (the old copy and paste method possibly), so I'll include one text only once. One of the best descriptions I think come from budodojo and from a web page in Hungarian (find it translated at the bottom of the list).

  • Ai - harmony,
  • Ki - spirit, mind or universal energy,
  • Do - the Way

  • Ai - harmony,
  • Ki - spirit,
  • Do - the Way or Path

  • Ai - joining, harmonizing
  • Ki - spirit, life energy
  • Do - way, path

  • Ai - to gather or harmonize
  • Ki - universal life force/energy. This is the energy that we share with nature and all living beings
  • Do - an artful path of discovery

  • Ai - the kanji for AI (also pronounced GO and KATSU), as an ideogram, is often interpreted historically as a rice pot with a lid. This suggests the idea of meeting, joining or coming together. The character is often used to indicate harmony, union and reconciliation.
  • Ki - The kanji for KI means spirit. It comes from the X character in the lower center, meaning rice. The radical to the top and leading down to the right represents vapor. Together they originally indicated the vapors rising from cooked rice and now indicate the idea of spirit or unseen force. Today it is generally used to indicate an invisible, spiritual energy or life force.
  • Do - The DO kanji (also DO, TO, and michi) is composed of the wavy radical to the lower left meaning movement and the element to the right meaning head or chief. These were used to suggest the idea of the main road and finally came to mean way or road. In the context of aikido it takes on the common abstract meaning of way or way of enlightenment. DO is used in many Japanese words regarding traditional Japanese martial arts including; budo, judo, kendo, kyudo, karate-do, and dojo.

  • Ai - translated as "harmony," this term is most commonly associated with aikido, where one combines their energy with that of their opponents.
  • Aiki - "harmony meeting." When one combines an opponents' energy with their own for control.
  • Ki - "spirit." Ideally, the mental and spiritual power summoned through concentration and breathing that can be applied to accomplish physical feats. This centralized energy, possessed by every person, can be manifested through the practice of just about any manifested through the practice of just about any martial discipline.
  • Do - "way" or "path." When this term is used as a suffix to a particular style of the Japanese martial arts, it is indicitive of more than just a means of combat. Do indicates a disciplineand philosophy with moral and spiritual connotations, with the ultimate aim being enlightenment.

  • Ai - 'to meet, to come together, to harmonize'.
  • Ki - 'energy, spirit, mind'. In a larger context, Ki means 'the spirit of the universe', and not just the spirit of human beings.
  • Do - 'the way'. It signifies that the study of Aikido does not involve merely self-defense techniques, but includes positive character-building ideals which a person can incorporate into his or her life.

  • Ai - mutual
  • Ki - spirit (from Middle Chinese khi)
  • Do - art (from Middle Chinese daw', thaw).

  • Ai - the first and most important kanji which means "meet, come together, harmonize".
  • Ki - which means "soul, mind, spirit". In a larger context, Ki refers to the spirit of the universe and not just the spirit in human beings.
  • Do - which means "the way", to signify that Aikido involves an outer and inner practice over the long term.

  • Ai - unity, harmony, love, identifying with something
  • Ki - living force, energy of centered power
  • Do - way, means of something

  • Ai - harmony
  • Ki - energy, spirit
  • Do - the way, path, road, philosophy of...

  • Ai - it means 'harmony'. The aim of aikido is to create harmony. Harmony with ourselves, our partner we train with and harmony with the world.
  • Ki - this requires a more explanation. The kanji itself has two parts. The part below the (approximately) horizontal line denote the rise fields, the part above show the vapour above the rise fields. It doesn't mean much for us westerners but the vapor above the rise fields means life and livelihood to the people of the East. The original meaning of this kanji has changed over the past centuries. Today Ki means universal living force, energy that is present everywhere. It is the same as chi in China and prana in India.
  • Do - the meaning of Japanese do and Chinese tao are identical. Both of them mean 'way', 'road' or 'path', but not only the road we put our feet on but rather the road we walk on and we get somewhere; the way that leads to our objectives.

When I almost finished this post I was looking for individual kanji pictures and my Chinese colleague suddenly turned towards me and said 'I know this one!'. That was the 'do' kanji. So I took the opportunity to explore what these three kanji mean to the Chinese. Here's what she said, with approximate pronounciations:

  • the AI kanji - [hei, he] - come together, fit
  • the KI kanji - [chi, qi] - air, vital breath, 'if you don't have this you die'
  • the Do kanji - [dao] - philosophy, path, way, direction, method, principle

For me it's very interesting. Same kanji, sometimes completely different pronounciation, similar meanings. I learned something new again :).

Did I miss something important? Please let me know in the comments.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Translations, interpretations of the word AIKIDO

On my way of reading articles about aikido I've come across several web pages that explain the basics of aikido to visitors who don't know much about this martial art. Most of these pages contain an introduction to aikido, what the main principles are, who was O'Sensei and when did he create aikido. One thing that was particularly interesting to see was the variety of interpretations of the word 'aikido'. The translations and interpretations are mostly very similar but different versions might include different aspects of the word's meaning.

The following is a list of translations and interpretations that show how others describe the word aikido. They aren't sorted in any way, I just include them as I found them.

  • "A way of harmonizing with the universal spirit"
  • "An artful path of discovering how to gather and harmonize the energy of the universe"
  • "Together the characters ai ki and do indicate a spiritual path to unionizing or harmonizing spiritual energy"
  • "The way of harmonious spirit"
  • "The way of harmony with universal energy"
  • "The path of harmony"
  • "The way of harmony"
  • "Harmony of spirit to find a way"
  • "The harmony of body and spirit"
  • "The art of non-resistance"
  • "The non-fighting martial art"
  • "The way of harmonizing with the universe"
  • "The art of creating unity"
  • "The way of unionising with the inducement of the universe"
  • "The way of harmonious inner power"
  • "The way of spiritual energy"
  • "Martial art of harmony"
  • "Art of love"
  • "Harmony of love"
My personal favourites are the 'way of harmony' and the 'art of non-resistance'. These sound simple enough to understand and clearly describe the main principles I see in aikido. Aikido is a martial art, so art describes it well. It is a way of life if practiced in a devoted manner so way is also a good descriptor. Our aim is to use the attacker's energy so we should not resist his attack but redirect it. If there is no collision of forces then both harmony and non-resistance can be achieved. I think it is not possible to describe ki in one word so I wouldn't use the direct interpretations spirit, energy or inner power as they individually do not capture the total meaning of the word. Also, I need to learn much more to be able to understand translations that include the words universe and universal energy. Maybe later I will understand these as well and then I'll use them to explain what the word aikido means.

The original kanji pictures are from Aikiweb.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Aikido in a business plan competition

To learn how businesses work and how they should be started, I entered the 'Pitch your idea business plan competition' at the university I'm at. It included a series of one-day courses about finance, marketing, intellectual property rights, etc. and we were asked to come up with a business plan of our own and create a short executive summary of our plan. The summaries were judged and the best 10 got into the final where we needed to 'pitch our ideas', convince the panel of 8 businessmen and -women that our plan was very good. We had to talk for 5 minutes and there was 10 minutes for questions. They it was like in Dragon's den but I haven't seen any episodes from that TV programme.

But why is this interesting to our aikido blog? Because my idea was related to aikido. Initially I just thought I wanted to set up a fictional business and teach aikido - fictional because I wouldn't start a proper aikido class with my 2nd kyu, obviously. So I worked on this idea and soon realized that there isn't too much money involved, so unless I have 40 years experience I won't start a highly profitable aikido business. Just read some of the latest entries from aikiweb by Erik Calderon (titled 'I QUIT!' and 'Aikido SUCKS!').

The modified idea was to do an aikido therapy, which was based on the idea of martial arts therapy. I set up and submitted the new business plan, talked about it in the final, answered questions and received a certificate of participation.

I didn't win but I still won. Not a prize but experience, opportunity to talk to knowledgable people and other students with ideas. I also got a £20 book token which was given to each finalist, a free certificate to put on my wall :), several free lunches and a half-ready business plan with feedback to improve it.

ps. The final took place in a very nice building near Barbican station in London (right next to the building which is used in the Poirot films as the detective's office/home) so I couldn't help asking someone to take a picture of me in the room during the break after my session :).

Have a nice day everyone.

Monday, 3 December 2007


This is just another week when I read something, think about it, observe it and write a post about it. This time I read an article about the correct posture in modern life and aikido.

The main idea I understood was that the skeleton but especially the muscles of humans are not evolved for sitting in chairs and in front of computer screens. Our ancestors had to walk a lot, lift heavy objects and they needed the optimal body structure for this as well as a proper use of this structure. A very interesting point in the article is that knees and leg muscles (e.g. the quadriceps) of modern mankind are much weeker than those of our fathers, grandfathers, etc. We don't need to sit on the floor any more because we have chairs and tables. We don't need to lift heavy objects as often because we have forklifts :). Since we don't need to exploit our muscles and bones to achieve highest efficiency, unfortunately, we tend to use them in a far from optimal manner. Just think about how you pick up something from the floor. You will probably bend and use your muscles in your back to lift that thing. Bending becomes our default motion to 'go down' to reach something positioned low and since our body is not designed for this our back, and life at an older age, will suffer its consequences. Just to experiment, I counted how many times a day I bent instead of squatting, but I stopped counting after 40...

I think the Japanese are luckier in this sense because they still actively sit in seiza and it might be easier for them not to overuse their waists.

The proper practice to lift up something, for example, a watermelon :), would be to keep your upper body straight and upright, squat, pick up that melon and stand up while you are still in an upright position. You need to use the strength of your legs and position your hip for the ideal lifting position.

This is the same for aikido. We tend to bend too often and it's very hard to learn to keep the proper upright posture. It also sounds easier to bend when you take down your uke but as the pain in my back and waist the day after training proves there should be a better way to execute techniques. I feel lucky that we can practice suwari waza as well. There we need to use our toes and leg muscles that are otherwise not exercised and taken care of properly. We also need to use our hips so there is a higher chance that if we do it properly won't suffer that much when we grow old. And even when we grow old, we can still practice aikido which is a very good thing. Just have a look at aikido masters over 70.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Trust and an attacking uke

Sometimes I'm a bit impatient with beginners who don't understand that uke has to come and attack and it's not really the way of harmony if one partner's intention is to resist or interrupt an already started motion. For example, some beginners 'attack' as if they didn't really want to. They hold your wrist but as soon as you move they release it or stop and unless you tell them what to do a couple of times every training there isn't much improvement. As a partner (being tori) I usually explain that 1. uke is an attacker so has to attack and come forward until he can't 2. if you stop and release my hand you might easily get a punch in your face (which I don't demonstrate).

Be warned: I might sound confused in this post and that's because I'm still far from understanding how things really work in aikido and how some existing knowledge and experience can be effectively passed on to beginners to improve them so we can practice in harmony and can further improve more quickly. I think about these things a lot and, from time to time, I come up with new interpretations, ideas which are often based on something I hear or read.

A couple of weeks ago I read a blog post about trust. It made me think. It also made me realise that my thinking is still of a beginner's and there's still an incredible amount of knowledge to gather along the Way (there are some points in life when we realize how big the world is and how small we are in it).
I'm very similar to the author in the sense that I, too have substantial experience in trusting too much. One point he made was that if you trust your tori (aka. nage) too much you can easily run into one or two punches (which is the opposite of the example above but I'll get to that point later). As I described, this was my problem too and I learned to slow down a bit but I still often forget to keep away from that atemi (and usually this is when I start wondering how someone with a relatively short arm can easily reach my nose :)). Now, what if you are tori and uke does exactly the opposite of my approach, i.e. grabs you but doesn't come forward to attack despite the master's explanation about attacking? I think it can a question of trust. Not attacking can easily be a self-trust problem for a beginner: he doesn't know what exactly is going to happen and he's not confident whether he can roll/fall properly. But if the person is not a complete beginner I think this behaviour also shows that he doesn't trust his partner which should not be the case. Luckily, as someone practices more this becomes less an issue and you can actually begin to practice in harmony. But before that it's very hard sometimes.

I don't blame anyone who's not attacking. There might be other reasons for not attacking apart from trust problems and if it's a lack of trust then that can have a lot of reasons, too. We live in a world where nobody trusts others. And obviously, if you generally don't trust people you can't be expected to trust others right after taking up aikido.

Another point is that if you trust too easily you shouldn't expect the same from everyone else and shouldn't be frustrated if your uke won't attack properly (this has also been made clear in the post I mentioned above). Eventually, you will earn their trust and you can enjoy practicing together much more (at least this is what I always tell to myself when my blood pressure is starting to increase :)).

I think training in aikido could actually increase your level of trust (and hopefully not the blood pressure :)) and during training you can teach yourself to trust some people in a relatively safe environment in order to make your life better. Own example: training can help you a lot to overcome fear and lack of trust so that you can build healthy relationships with other people (you can ask my wife about this ;)).

Monday, 26 November 2007

Time and timing - part 1

A couple of days ago I was standing at the bus stop in the morning and saw two cars parking on the opposite side of the street. I could see their alarm lights blinking because it was still dark.

Their timing was very interesting, almost as if they were parts of a clock: one alarm the 'tic' the other the 'tac'. I noticed that if I stare at them and focus on the lights they seem to blink faster. If I concentrate even more, they will seem to blink very quickly. When I cleared my mind and just looked at the street with my brain turned off (if was easy at 5.30am) they were blinking less frequently.

This was very interesting because I've just read about the perception of time in martial arts recently. I read that if you clear your mind time seems to slow down. If it slows down it means that your reaction time decreases giving you 'streched' time to react to any attack more quickly. It was nice to see this effect in reality. Otherwise the article would have been just a couple of paragraphs about the mystery of time in martial arts.

This is why old Japanese martial arts (Koryu) teach you to stare at a distant mountain instead of your opponent. Staring and focusing too hard is not good :) . It's a bit like "freezing" without any shock experience.

Some aikido masters tell you to consider this effect and behave accordingly. Since there's no mountain in the indoors dojo it would be hard to focus on it unless one wall's wallpaper shows mountain Fuji (which I think would be nice :P). Instead you should watch the whole picture and should not focus on a particular attack (e.g. shomenuchi) but a moving figure, at least as far as I understand from the article. Probably this is what we would describe as looking for the attacker's intention to attack and start a technique before the opponent moves (as we react on his intention to start).

I'll continue with my other theories and thoughts about timing in another post later. Until that you can comment on this post :).

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Banner, logo, cherry, plum

I finally replaced the default imageless banner of the blog.

As you can see now it includes our newly designed logo and three drawings.

The logo is based upon a couple of ideas.

Firstly, the shape is based on the motif which is used by several Aikido organisations in their logos. Our mother organisation's logo is very similar but it is very similar for the Japanese Aikikai and several other Aikido organisations (for example, in the logos of the Dutch Aikikai Foundation or the British Aikido Federation), too.

First, I remembered someone saying that this motif was the cherry blossom (sakura) which is

[...]Japan's unofficial national flower. It has been celebrated for many centuries and takes a very prominent position in Japanese culture.

There are many dozens of different cherry tree varieties in Japan, most of which bloom for just a couple of days in spring. The Japanese celebrate that time of the year with hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties under the blooming trees.


I was looking for confirmations that the flower was really a cherry blossom but I couldn't find anything that would confirm this theory (and memory) of mine. After a couple of ours I told myself to stop looking for cherry blossom and start looking for something else in case the flower is not cherry. I remembered that the number of 'petals' in the logo is always five no matter which organisation uses it. Starting my search from this fact brought some unexpected results: the flower is a plum blossom! I also found a quote from O'Sensei explaining what the five petals mean.

Three thousand worlds
Burst into bloom
The flower of the plum
Now, if you are able to read this and say to yourself,
'Of course, the plum blossom has 5 petals,
each one represents one of the five elements:
earth, water, fire, wind and void (air),'
then you will be able to say that even a tiny plum flower is able to teach you something of the Universe. The blossom is an expression of the spirit of the Great Universal.

(from O'Sensei's Memoirs)

Now back to the logo. I took the sunrise-mountain (is it mountain Fuji?) part of the previous version of our logo by fellow aikidoka Janos Molnar. Changed the colours so that the new logo's middle part is primarily red, and changed its main image from the picture of Charlie san and me at a demonstration to a picture of a samurai. The samurai picture is an stylised version of a photo I made about a samurai doll in the British Museum a couple of years ago.

Banner: Although the initial idea for the header background was a Japanese style landscape drawing, I put on three aikido drawings instead. I made them when another fellow aikidoka lent her graphic tablet to me for a couple of weeks. The decision to put these was rather simple: currently I don't have Internet access at home but I felt the need to urgently create a banner picture during the weekend :D (..and I don't have the tablet now but would be unable to create a nice and stylish landscape anyway). If I find a good Japanese landscape online or people start complaining about the drawings, I might replace them. Or maybe I replace them regularly whenever something new comes to mind :).

If you like the new logo and header section please leave a comment. Leave a nice and constructively critical comment if you don't like them ;). I'd also appreciate if you wrote comments regarding the flower-problem.

Nice food after training

There weren't too many people in Sunday's training so I just want to show the skippers what they missed :).

It's not that we did techniques blindfolded, practiced shomen with bokken but what we had after training.

Enjoy the view of the food and Happy Birthday to Armand!

Friday, 9 November 2007

How to fold a gi properly

Many people put their gi away into their bags after training as if the keikogi was a piece of kitchen cloth. Even if you wash your gi when you get home I think it deserves a "fair treatment" until it gets to the washing machine. I rather don't describe the look of the poor uniform if you just pull it out of your bag when you next use it. Despite these bad examples, I see many beginners who try to fold their gis but I also see a kind of confusion on their faces as they don't know how to do it properly.

My suggestion is that you can fold it anyhow you want but try to minimise the wrinkles. This will also show others how tidy you are. The next couple of pictures and bullet points illustrate how to fold a gi the way I learned it.
But before I get comments about how dirty my gi is as opposed to what I'm preaching above, please note that my gi is white and clean, I just photoshopped the images to emphasize the folds better ;).

  • Step one: put the jacket down onto the tatami (or any other clean surface) as shown.
  • Step two: Put the bottom of the gi on top of the jacket at its middle.
  • Step thee: Fold one side of the jacket onto the bottom and fold half of the sleeve back.
  • Step four: Do the same with the other side of the jacket.
  • Step five: Now fold the bottom part of the gi bottom up.
  • Step six: Fold the bottom up once again.
  • Step seven: Repeat this for again, and it will look pretty nice as the last fold will just fit on the rest of the gi.
  • Step eight: Wrap your belt around your folded gi and tuck the end of it below the already wrapped belt sections.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

My first Aikido experinces

If you are talking about aikido in public, probably the first reaction to pop up will be something like “oh yes that Steven Seagal stuff”. Funny though, I didn’t even now this “common sense” until I was doing aikido for about a couple of months. Well, maybe that was my luck; otherwise I would never start learning this beautiful martial art. Not because I have no respect for Seagal, of course I had also enjoyed his movies, but because I don’t really like aggression (and now we all know that was only about entertaining), it wouldn’t be the real motivation to catch up with it.

Fortunately my master Laszlo Elsner 5.dan have more sense of harmony, so after seeing my first ever training in early 1999, I got really excited about something absolutely new (for me, of course :) ), therefore I was already taking the following class in my jogging trousers and my favourite Red Bull t-shirt (you have to look cool, hah?). I remember having pain in my knees, ankles after the first fallings, but I was absolutely determined to survive J At the beginning the progression wasn’t quite easy for me, because the majority of the club was pretty beginner-guys being graded for 5th, 6th kyu, or had no grade at all. So I started to attend classes also in my masters headquarter club, where I could also practice with some guys having hakama. Soon I realized I was utterly addicted to aikido, having 5 classes a week, plus helping out in the children's classes on Saturdays and Sundays, which made it 7 trainings a week…
The reason for doing aikdo is simple: I found something that I was missing and I would really miss in my life. Not just Aikido, harmony or the universe’s energy, but friends. Friends who really made my last decade, and hopefully they will so in the following few ones :).

Monday, 5 November 2007

Smile and relax - humour, hakama, east of England

An aikido training should not be too serious. You should respect others, O'Sensei and the dojo (see prev. post) but a smile is never frowned upon if it's not out of hands :). Our masters ask us to smile when executing a technique. It shows that you enjoy the class, don't take things or yourself too seriously and your muscles are relaxed enough to do a technique in harmony (without collision of the Forces* ;)).
Your muscles should not be too stiff for aikido, and smiling helps a lot in this. A relaxed body can perform better.

The former Soviet Union had a coach for the men's 100m sprint who accepted someone as trainee only if the person passed a quick test: he had to run the 100m with a rolled paper in his mouth (it's exactly like playing fetch just completely different :)). If the paper stayed intact after the sprint the runner was OK, otherwise dismissed. The reason was that if you clench your teeth you can't be relaxed enough to give 100% when running. It was used in this short distance run mostly because if you run longer distances (as many of you go running for 30-60 minutes or so), at the end you should end up more relaxed as being stiff is not sustainable if you exercise one thing for a longer period anyway. Since aikido is rather a "short-distance-many-times" exercise (seiza-practice-seiza-practice,technique-pin-technique-pin, etc.) it's important to be relaxed before you start doing a technique.

Many web sites offer some aikido humour (cartoons, "funny" songs :)) and, especially in children's classes, there might be some humorous aikido games as well. (I like these games in adult classes too as my inner child is always ready for games ...unlike the comrade leader in old eastern times who said "I do understand humour just don't like it" :D)

A couple of days ago I came across some videos and photos my brother took in Hungary (where I'm from). I'm not showing these videos here because, although funny enough, drunk people falling off horses during a local traditional festival are not really appropriate for this blog :). However, I have some pictures showing (reasonably sober) people in old clothes that prove the historical relation between the Hungarian and Japanese :). Look at the pictures, what are they wearing? Of course, it's a Hungarian Hakama! :D It is called "gatya" or "bőgatya" which also shows the relation because the words have (almost) only 'a' vowels in them, and 'k' and 'g' are very similar in Japanese, too! Remember, "Kote" (forearm) and "kaeshi" (reversal, return) becomes "kotegaeshi" (a name of a technique) when used together! Amazing! :D Almost a complete match! It's like getting from "deer" to "beer" in one step. :) And should I mention that hakama was worn initially by horseback samurai? It's all way too obvious. :D

Enjoy your trainings, add some comments here if you feel like doing so.

*I read that George Lucas took, at least partially, the idea of the Force in Star Wars from an aikido master but more about this maybe later in another post.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Bow - Part 2

In the previous post I introduced why you should bow during a training. Now there's a list of when bowing is expected.

  1. When you enter the dojo you bow at the door towards the middle of the room. You acknowledge the place of training.
  2. When you step onto the mat (tatami) you bow towards the kamiza (shrine) which is sometimes just a framed picture of O'Sensei. Some people do this in seiza (the traditional formal way of sitting in Japan) while others simply from a standing position. You show your appreciation towards O'Sensei who created this martial art. Please note that this is nothing to do with religion, you simply show your respect but it's not kind of worshipping a god.
  3. (When there is no space between the door and the tatami, i.e. the mat area starts right next to the door, you can bow only once.)
  4. When the training begins, you start with a short meditation in seiza and then first you and the master bow towards O'Sensei which is followed by a bow towards each other (students towards the sensei, sensei towards students). You may say 'onegai shimasu' (pronounced as oh-ne guy-she-mahss, you mean something like 'please teach me') when you bow towards your sensei. I don't think this needs any explanation. It is nice though that the sensei also bows towards you as he accepts teaching you and he can also learn from you during the training by correcting your mistakes or simply finding out which way of demonstrating a technique is best for students to understand how it should be executed properly.
  5. When the master finishes the demonstration of a technique the uke he 'used' (inappropriate, but sometimes used word) bows towards the master and says thank you (domo arigato gozaimashita). The students also bow from seiza as they were sitting and observing the master's demonstration.
  6. When you find a partner to train with you ask them to practice with you by going to them and bowing. You can say onegai shimasu (~ 'thank you for training with me'). Your partner accepts you by doing the same. Please note that rejecting someone is considered to be very rude and is never done unless you are to practice in pairs and two or more people bowed towards you at the very same time.
  7. When sensei says 'yame' (yah-meh, 'stop') or 'seiza', you finish immediately whatever you were doing (if it's possible, even in the middle of a technique except when it would cause injury, e.g. in the middle of a throw), and you bow towards each other and say thank you. You usually say this in Japanese but English, or any other language that are used by both partners, can also be accepted, you just need to show your appreciation.
  8. When you are practicing in groups and someone has finished his/her 'round' of being the tori (who does the technique, also called nage), s/he bows towards the next person who will take his/her place. If it's the first round, the order is usually from senior to junior (so that beginners can observe the technique more before actually doing it), if it's not the first round you should use your memory to remember who's next :).
  9. Some people bow towards each other after every uke-tori swap (usually after four techniques, two each side). In our dojo this is not practiced (probably to save time), we only bow when we are asked to take our place in seiza or change partners.
  10. When you don't understand anything and want to ask the sensei, I think you know what to do: bow :). But the most important thing is that you should go to the sensei and bow and not hail him like a taxi and when he comes to you, bow :). You do the same when you need to leave the room for whatever reason or need to stop for a while. This includes drinking some water which you should do only for a very good reason during trainings (e.g. in 65 degrees Celsius :)).
  11. At the end of the class, the same meditation-bow-bow procedure is followed as at the beginning of the training.
  12. Similarly, when you leave the tatami and dojo you do the same bows as when you were entering. This way you will use the same procedure to get back to the civil world as to forget about your daily problems when entering the dojo.
  13. If you are not training but watching the class, you also bow when entering and leaving. Apart from these, you only need to bow when the others, after the meditation, bow at the beginning and end of the class. During the meditation part you should stand up as another sign of respect.

This may sound many if you are a beginner but you will soon find it natural.

If I left something out please let me know in the comments, otherwise bow whenever you feel it is appropriate in reflection of the above points. :)

Monday, 29 October 2007

Bow - Part 1

If you come to England from abroad and you read the word 'bow', first you will probably think about Robin Hood :D. If you come closer to London you will see that Bow is a part of East London (and name of a station). But if you come to a dojo, bow takes on a completely different meaning again.

A bow is a fundamental part of aikido training. It shows respect towards the place you train in, towards O'Sensei (Ueshiba Morihei, the founder of aikido), your sensei (the instructor of the aikido class) and your fellow students. It is part of the training that you always show respect.

You must have seen films, movies with Japanese people bowing all the time. This is part of their culture, they show the appreciation for whatever they think you deserved it. It is very similar to the English culture though, just the manifestation of showing respect is different a bit. In England, you are always 'brilliant','fantastic' but at least 'nice' (ask foreigners how unusual this can be for them/us :)). Even if you don't like someone you don't tell this to them in their faces. I think this has a very nice ( :)) side as, even if you don't think so, you show some respect and don't allow the situation to become aggressive. After a while, you get used to forcing yourself to be positive and at the end you may as well end up becoming more positive (you can as well call it self-programming). So in an aikido training, bow whenever you think the situation allows a bow, this way you learn to respect others (even more ;)).

More on when to bow is to follow this post but you can send me comments before that if you like.

Monday, 22 October 2007

How to put on your hakama?

There are several ways to tie your hakama on. I think you should choose whichever you like best or whichever fits the length of cords (himo) of your hakama.

If I needed to do it for the first time I would try to copy someone I know. You might have a master who prefers you to tie on the hakama in a certain way and expects you to do so either. I think it's also easier to copy someone as you can ask them to stop whenever you want/need or ask them to explain how they do it.

Before getting my hakama I looked up ways to put it on on the Internet. I found several figures, a couple of videos but there were too many ways to do it so I couldn't choose immediately. I had to wait until I got my own hakama and I tried a couple of versions because I didn't want to go to my first hakama training without any knowledge about how to tie it on.

Although later, I recorded how the advanced aikidoka do it in our dojo. This is a version I had never seen before online (unbelievable! Amazing! :D:D) but they say it is the easiest and quickest way, and I believe them :).

However, I do it differently (I am allowed to :)). I think my way of doing it is a mixture of things I found on the web. I try to follow a video found on youtube but finish with the 'flower-like' knot (which is from another document). I'm not including a video of me now, you would get bored at my speed as a beginner hakama wearer. Watch my video source instead.

I think the most cited (and copied) non-video method is in the document created by Bu Jin (pdf). Many other web pages use the same figures to illustrate how to tie a hakama on.

Other hakama-tying resources:

Some, for me at least, interesting ways of tying on and wearing a hakama:
- some people don't wear a belt so their hakama tying is different and not really applicable to us.
- the traditional Japanese way to tie a hakama also falls into this category as you don't wear a training obi with your hakama in civil life (or the belt is different).
- I saw aikido practitioners wearing a hakama and belt 'inside out': hakama inside, belt tied on top.

My knowledge about traditional Japanese clothes is limited to what I read in some articles online so if there is anything I didn't get right or missed out please tell me about it in your comments.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

The standard

There isn't a lot to add to these videos. I just watch, learn and wish I could do them like the Doshu :).

The following two videos are two from a bunch of recordings about Ueshiba Moriteru demonstrating aikido techniques. Check out the videos' related sections for the others.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Hakama - colour and who can wear it

The colour of the hakama in aikido is much easier to write about (than about belt colours). It's normally black, while sometimes indigo blue. O'Sensei also wore white ones and I think I remember a video about the late doshu Kisshomaru wearing fairly bright hakama but never seen the current doshu wearing non-dark hakama (he even wears white belt!).

As far as I understood if you are higher in dans you can have your name (in Japanese) embroidered on your hakama (right-back). You may also have the logo of your dojo/organisation in the front.

The hakama colour guide might be easy but whether you can wear them it's a bit more complicated. This wasn't the question with belts as you always need to wear one to hold your gi together, but since you can train without hakama there are various regulations about it.

According to hombu (centre of aikikai aikido, Tokyo, Japan) men can wear hakama from 1st dan, women from 3rd kyu. Our organisation belongs to (or reports to) hombu but we wear them from 2nd kyu regardless of sex. In some other aikido organisations you wear them from day one, at other places you don't wear hakama at all (for safety purposes, see the previous post). There are also places where you can wear hakama whenever you want but people usually wait until their first kyu exam and start wearing them afterwards.

I think an aikidoka in hakama looks much nicer :) which is probably due to the fact that everyone I saw in hakama had some aikido skills (and a proper posture) already. One of my reasons I kept up training was that I wanted to earn the right to wear hakama. Now I'm getting used to wearing it and my next aim is to be able to change my white belt to black.

All these variations (this applies to belts, too) and changes are part of the human nature, I guess. Noone thinks exactly the same way as anyone else, and hadn't been diversity of individuals of species there wouldn't be a civilisation today. So maybe one rule for belt colours and hakama will emerge in some time proving to be the 'best' practice but these rules may still exist parallel to one another. Just like squirrels and kangaroos :).

Friday, 12 October 2007

About safety

One of the reasons one might start doing aikido is that you want to feel safer. I too wanted to gain some self-confidence and just generally, wanted to feel safer in the street at night (though the places I lived in before coming to London were not particularly unsafe).

Another aspect of safety in aikido appears when you are actually practicing. You obviously don't want to harm either yourself or your partner or anyone practicing within the dojo. For this reason, i.e. to avoid injuries, we should train carefully and should not do silly things to show how much you know ("let's throw the uke as far as we can...").

When practicing, it's always the tori who controls the technique, hence he is responsible for the safe execution of a technique. The tori can control where the uke is thrown as the uke sometimes can't see where's some space to be thrown (and the tori is supposed to lead the uke anyway).

There is one more way to prevent injuries, and this is clothing. If the sleeve of your gi bottoms are too long, you or others can step on it and, because you can't step properly, someone might get injured. Hakamas are even wider, looser-fitting and might also cause injuries when they are too long or the aikidoka is not prepared to wear them safely.

I think this is why many aikido dojos do not allow students to wear hakama until they acquire certain skills and experience (3rd, 2nd kyu, 1st dan). Two things I wouldn't like are wearing hakama from the first day or not wearing hakama at all. I think these are rather two extremes as a beginner doesn't even know how to walk (especially in shikko dachi) and I wouldn't like to take the nice look of a hakama away from advanced students. Saying that someone doesn't wear hakama at all is being overcautious but tell me if I'm wrong in this.

The other thing is the colour of the belts. I'm much more flexible in accepting coloured belts for safety reasons but I also think that as the Japanese could live without these colours for ages so should we. The purpose of aikido is also to work, practice together with anyone so if you don't know how advanced your partner is you can either ask or start the techniques slowly to find out where s/he is in his/her Way.

Safety is for not getting injured and concerns about it should not take anything away from people. I don't go into a dark alley during the night if I don't feel safe but I shouldn't feel unsafe during a walk at night anywhere (e.g., a well lit street). If someone really wants to hurt you they will, but such mean people are, I hope, very rare. Similarly, accidents can happen in aikido trainings but serious accidents are also very rare.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

The three ways of practicing

I read somewhere in an article that there are three ways to do an aikido technique.

  1. where the uke grabs the tori and holds his arms hard trying to prevent him from moving. Obviously, the challenge here for the tori is to start the technique and then finish it as well as he can.
  2. when the uke has some attacking speed (plus the initiative). The tori doesn't have to focus hard on getting out of uke's grasp but he can do a technique in a bit more relaxed manner, the uke won't struggle trying to hit or kick you (or holding you down/back), and you can do the technique in harmony.
  3. when it's the tori who initiates the movements by making the uke come forward and attack. After this initial movement you work together as normally.
I personally don't really like this categorization though we can still practice all of them from time to time. Maybe it's because I'm not a master yet :).

The first point is what beginners tend to do every time. This is the 'what if I hold you like this, what if I come back here and kick you here' approach. If I do a technique slowly, the result with beginners will obviously be this and there's hardly any harmony in it (which we should achieve). If I do this quickly with a beginner they may get injured. Struggling is not aikido anyway. Unless, you are specifically asked to do techniques this way, e.g., ushiro kubishime.

The third point, where tori takes the initiative, is ok as long as both of you have some aikido experience. This one is a bit weird if you do a technique slowly. Changing the speed during the execution of a technique is not really realistic neither it is advised. Changing the speed like this can be dangerous, especially for beginners who tend to speed up once they think how to do that part of the technique. For example, if someone attacks you slowly with a shomenuchi you should react with the same speed to work in harmony. However, if you are a beginner you are often late with starting a technique which you sometimes may try to compensate with rapid (and not stable) execution.

The second way of doing a technique, though, can be practiced by everyone, you can focus on doing the technical details well, do the technique in harmony and beginners can be taught to work without struggle and, at the same time, without being too relaxed ('cool'). Also, you can do techniques slowly.

I prefer seeing when an instructor demonstrates two ways at a time: 'You can do it this way, you can do it that way but never mix the two and, especially, never switch between these two ways within the execution of a technique'. One of the best examples comes from jo exercises: when you finish a technique with a tsuki, you can stop the end of the jo near to the head of the opponent or you can thrust properly (stopping the jo's tip behind the head) but next to the head... you can imagine what happens when you mix the two.

If there is a hole in this theory I hope someone will correct me in the comments :).

ps. After reading back my post, it seems that the three-way theory might be ok but needs advanced students to practice them. I wouldn't teach the 'hold the other' method to beginners as they are never soft and relaxed (which is understandable, this is one of the reasons they start training). I would teach the 3rd method in an easy manner to carefully show beginners when they need to keep attacking (as they often tend to stop in the middle).

Let's work in harmony.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Belt colours in aikido

I was reading a few of fora and web pages about grading systems in aikido and it seems aikido organisations and individual dojos are very creative when it comes to the colour scheme of their belts.

Firstly I'd like to say that our organisation (and hence, our dojo) has a very simple a rule about the colour of our belts: it's either white or black. White (6th kyu to 1st kyu) until you become yudansha and from then on black (1st dan, 2nd dan, etc.). This is the same for the traditional/classical/original aikido - aikikai - which is lead by the doshu, Moriteru Ueshiba (Ueshiba is his surname in Japan).

As far as I know, the other colours (yellow, blue, etc.) have been invented for westerners as this would fit into our culture better. In my opinion, having these colours is against the spirit of martial arts as it focuses on some goals at different levels and not on actually doing aikido, practicing. It shouldn't be the end of the road that matters but the way you get there. You should enjoy doing aikido and should not pursue the 'next belt'. This is not a competition.

Our black-and-white system can be a bit frustrating when you go to seminars where a 5th kyu plucks up the courage to instruct you on how to do a technique and you are, for example, a 3rd kyu. However, as someone gets closer to his/her dan level it becomes obvious that until you actually get there you are basically a beginner, really just tasting what aikido is. And it is said that real learning starts when you become a black belt aikidoka.

To see the colours of other aikido dojos and organisations, I created a figure (from top to bottom: from many kyu to dan levels) and then went artistic with it. Try to use the polar co-ordinates photoshop filter on the first figure yourself to get these pictures.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

The first training

It is generally understood that first things are always memorable. You remember your first day at school, your first kiss and most certainly your first aikido training! There are, obviously, exceptions but if you loved it (or it was a complete shock :)), you will probably remember. This post is about my first training experience. If you too have your story please share it in the comments.

It was back in 1999 in my 2nd year at the (then) University of Veszprem. Each semester, we needed to collect 20 signatures from some sort of sport activities, and I was really bored with the excuse-sports the year before (airgun practice), so wanted to do something 'extreme' along with some friends. At that time a martial art seemed extreme enough, so I picked one at random. Alright, this is not true :). It wasn't random. I already heard about karate and kungfu but nothing about aikido, so it was an obvious choice :).

Having no martial art experience, the first training was...very funny. You had to sit down in the beginning in a line with others, and had to be in total silence for at least a minute. Then there were these jumps and breathing exercises, still in silence.
If you are in an unusual situation you often give a strange smile or play around with your fingers, ears, pen, etc., and since my body movements were controlled, smile remained :) Actually, I was really about to burst into laughing, and so were the other newcomers (roughly 15 of us). There was one time when I even needed to pretend coughing to hide a sudden laugh. I felt exposed in front of all those people and I was so lame. At the end though, I was tired and didn't feel like this anymore*. During that week of my first trainings, I already decided that aikido would be a long-term "exercise" for me.
By the way, the training was about tenchinage (as I learned its name later on).

Please share your experience with me (and other readers) even if you martial art is not aikido. That would make the story-set really interesting.

*this is not true either :D. There are still days when it's hard to control myself in the beginning of the meditation before class. The difference is that now it's now because I'm in an unusual situation but because I want to train so much and my body would jump and do those tenchinage (and many more) techniques. Be warned: the squeaking sound of a swinging punch bag can be very dangerous :D!

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Beginners' guide - how to tie your belt

Another post for new people in aikido: beginners of our dojo sometimes have some martial arts experience, these people often come to do aikido because they had an injury before and don't want to risk their health again. Indeed, injuries are not so frequent in aikido, although you still need to be careful to avoid injuring others or hurting yourself. To get back to the point, these people usually know how to tie a belt, there is only one difference, as I can see, between how we do it and how others do it: when finishing the 'knot', we tuck the end of the belt (also called obi) in between the gi and the belt itself.

One problem beginners find at first is "the knot is not as flat and nice-looking as yours advanced students". There might be two reasons for this: 1) you really didn't do it properly, or 2) you just need to give it some time until it almost automatically goes into place.
I'm addressing the first option here so you can be calm and patient, and focus on the second point and, obviously, the training (hopefully instead of your belt).

The following video shows how to tie your belt.

You may notice that this belt is quite hard while yours might be softer. You should still apply the same steps though if your belt is softer, it shouldn't make any difference at all.

There is another version of putting the belt on, I'm using that. I find the middle of the belt, put it where the knot will be, cross the belt at my back and tie the knot in front exactly the same way as shown in the video. Some say this version is not ideal as the crossed belt might hurt your back during the (incorrect) execution of some techniques. I haven't experienced any problems with the crossed version but I might change the way of tying my belt when I need to change my belt to a black one :).

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Size and fabric - how to buy a keikogi

I guess many people have already experienced the problem of buying gi (uniform) or hakama of an appropriate size. I have a recent experience in hakama measuring, choosing and ordering, so I thought it would be useful to put a couple of paragraphs together about sizes. You can read about the keikogi sizes and fabrics in this post, the "hakama buying guide" will follow some time later.

The first thing I experienced when I was a really beginner was the sizing of the keikogi. For me it was surprising that you have to give them your height and they will give you a good sized gi. I rarely experienced anything like this before because my not-so-robust body always made it hard to find anything good (i.e., tight enough) in my size. I was skeptical, but it turned out, that since the gi trousers are loose anyway, my skinny nature was not a problem at all. One of the first very good points and positive experiences from the time I started doing Aikido...

But it wasn't so easy just to give my height to get a good gi. I was 177cm, but the gis are sized 170 and 180. 180 is closer but does it work like that? No, it didn't. I was suggested to buy a 170 one, but only because the fabric of this particular keikogi didn't shrink much when washed.

So here are a couple of points to consider when buying a gi (I think it's worth reading even if are lucky enough to try them on and inspect them before buying):

  1. If you are between two sizes, e.g., your height is 175cm (sorry, I can't count in inches but as far as I know we can convert the sizes so that 4' is roughly 10cm), always choose the smaller one. It may still shrink but in aikido it's not a problem if the sleeve of the jacket is shorter (it's easier to grab and hold your arms when doing a technique).

  2. Karate gis might be OK for a while but you will see that they are not so durable because the jacket is not created for constant pulling and throwing (katadori, munedori techniques). If you don't have access to aikido gi specifically, a judogi is a good solution as those jackets are thicker and are built for durability. Also, a judo and aikido gis' trouses are reinforced at the knees (for suwari waze techinques). Both of my gis so far have been judogis, I just need to tuck up the sleeves twice, it's absolutely fine like that.
  3. I almost forgot: the gi should be white with no fancy 'Aikido Dragon' big emblems anywhere :). This might be different for other aikido clubs, but the only non-white things allowed in our organisation are: the logo of the Hungarian Aikido Foundation (our mother-organisation), the three ai-ki-do kanji and your name. You should also note that 'aikido' (usually written on advanced students' gis, e.g., from 1st dan) and/or your name is generally written there during seminars by a very experienced aikido master (in our case, Fujita Masatake shihan who always goes around with a black marker asking for your name :)). These signs also prove and show that you have attended a seminar of a master. And, obviously, you can ask your mom to embroider these signs on your gi :) to prevent fading.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Let's do Aikido

I will discuss anything that is related to Aikido, sometimes specifically related to our club in Wimbledon, hopefully get some others to write as well.

For now, let's start with a link to the page of our club for those wanting to feel and do it instead of reading only:

Articles, photos, stories and news coming shortly.


ps. You may have noticed that my English is not perfect but I'm willing to learn so any messages about the language are very much appreciated (you can contact me through my profile).